After several months of speculation, the Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) Jan Woerner announced on 28 February 2020 that he will not seek another term as head of the space agency and will step down from his position in July 2021.
Woerner’s announcement was made in a blog post on the ESA website, and along with news about the safe return of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano from a stint on board the International Space Station (ISS), the successful launch of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, and steps taken by ESA to mitigate the spread of the COVID 19 virus (aka Coronavirus) Woerner wrote, “for some months now there have been discussions about whether or not I would stay on for another term. Having given a great deal of thought to the question, I finally decided against it.”
“I will be 67 at the end of my term and I believe it is time to hand over to a younger leader. After more than 25 years heading public institutions, now is a good time to move on. I am still a civil engineer and eager to be active as such by focusing once again primarily on teaching and doing my own research,” Woerner said.
“I will leave ESA with good feelings, even though I will not have implemented 100% of what I had intended. I thank all those who have supported me these last few years. Together we can look back on many achievements – transforming ESA inside and out,” he added.
Woerner’s tenure as Director General of ESA saw a number of achievements, to include securing a record budget at the Space 19+ summit in Seville, Spain, in November 2019, a renaissance in Europe’s space industry due in large part to Woerner’s insistence that the private sector – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – play a larger part in Europe’s space ambitions, and several bureaucratic reforms within ESA that strengthens its governance and accountability.
“I hope that changes such as these that I have pioneered and implemented will have a positive impact long after I have gone,” he said.
“Still, there remains more than a year of my current term and I intend to use the time fully to continue to work for ESA, for space and the outstanding opportunities it presents to promote and advance peaceful international cooperation,” Woerner pointed out, stating that his priority over the next eighteen or so months is to lead ESA negotiations over the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU) as part of the latter’s long-term budget known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Woerner also said that he, along with his fellow ESA directors, will be preparing for various upcoming ministerial meetings.
“It has been and remains an exceptional honour and pleasure for me to serve ESA, its Member States, its staff and contractors and to help bring ESA and Europe forward in and through space,” Woerner said, and concluded that,”…even in difficult times, there is only one course of action: to keep moving forward!”